Theresa May’s government has yet again come under fire for its abhorrent treatment of migrants in Britain. This fortnight, horror stories from the so-called ‘Windrush generation’ of Caribbean migrants littered the press; from the man who was denied NHS treatment for his prostate cancer to pensioners detained in immigration removal centres. The Conservative government’s blatant disregard for immigrants from the Commonwealth poses many questions about the nation’s future, not least regarding the future treatment of migrants from the European Union.
The abominable treatment of Caribbean migrants comes at a critical juncture in British history. At a time where Britain is seeking to reframe its identity, reassert its international presence and develop relationships outside of the European Union, the scandal threatens to damage Britain’s prospects and reputation post-Brexit. Just as this year’s Commonwealth Games came to an end, Downing Street initially refused to talk to Caribbean leaders about the ill-treatment of Caribbean migrants – some of whom had settled in Britain as early as 1948. Downing Street’s reluctance to discuss the scandal with Commonwealth leaders is riddled with irony considering that the Games are meant to signify a shared commitment to equality and humanity.
Writing for the Independent, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, argued that the Windrush scandal “isn’t an anomaly” and had “scary implications for Brexit”. Many fear that if an overly bureaucratic and hostile immigration policy were to be introduced post-Brexit, migrants from Europe, previously welcomed to Britain, would be forced out. Indeed, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, has spoken at length about the “deeply worrying” implications that the Windrush scandal has for future immigration to Britain from the European Union. His comments came as the Home Office admitted that last year, in an “unfortunate error”, some EU nationals wrongly faced deportation. As well as humiliating Britain on the international stage, the Windrush scandal has undoubtedly also caused anxieties amongst EU nationals who live in the fear of deportation.
While the government is keen to paint the Windrush scandal as a “bureaucratic error”, it is clear that the scandal is a product of its hostile environment policy. Gary Younge, writing for The Guardian, notes that the government was wrong to assume that the “woes of a few elderly black people… could not prick the nation’s conscience”. In a similar vein, Brendan O’Neill, writing for The Spectator, argued that one of the government’s “key failings” was to equate public concern about mass immigration to public hostility to migrants already residing in Britain. If there is to be a silver lining to the Windrush scandal, it is that Britons have stood up to defend the rights of those who have continually contributed to the British economy and public life, regardless of their race or ethnicity. One can only hope that the British public will continue to hold the government accountable for its immigration policies as the Brexit negotiations continue.
Isobel Ashby is a campaign volunteer with LCHR